Unveiling the Rise of Half-Grey (Hangure) Groups in Japan

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The emergence of a new breed of criminal organizations operating independently from traditional yakuza groups has shaken Japan's underworld.

These groups, known as "Half-Grey" or "Han-Gure" in Japanese, have become a formidable force engaging in illicit activities while eluding the control of organized crime syndicates.

In this article, we delve into the origins, types, and organizational structure of these Half-Grey groups, shedding light on their growing influence and the challenges they pose to law enforcement.

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Uncovering the Half-Grey Phenomenon

The term "Half-Grey" was popularized by journalist Atsushi Mizoguchi, an authority on organized crime in Japan.

However, it's important to note that the term itself existed prior to Mizoguchi's work.

In his book "Yakuza Collapse: The Erosion of the Sixth Yamaguchi-gumi" published in 2011, Mizoguchi provides insight into the nature of these groups.

He describes them as occupying a gray area between law-abiding citizens ("katagi") and full-fledged yakuza members, hence the name "Half-Grey."

Evolving Patterns and Characteristics

Over time, the characteristics of Half-Grey groups have evolved, as noted by criminologist Noboru Hiromatsu.

Initially, Mizoguchi's definition of Half-Grey referred to individuals deeply involved in organizations like the old Kanto Rengo or the Doragon, usually in their thirties to forties.

However, Hiromatsu classifies Half-Grey groups into four distinct patterns:

Hardened Half-Grey

This category includes long-standing members of groups like the former Kanto Rengo or Doragon, often within the age range identified by Mizoguchi as Half-Grey members.

Perpetrators of Fraud

These individuals engage in activities such as fraudulent schemes, including the infamous "ore-ore" scams.

Half-Grey Groups with Legitimate Jobs

Some Half-Grey groups maintain legitimate occupations alongside their illicit activities, blending in with society.

Former Outlaws

This category consists of former members of violent motorcycle gangs or other delinquent groups who have transitioned into Half-Grey organizations.

Structure and Activities

The composition of Half-Grey groups often includes former members of Bōsōzoku, motorcycle gangs associated with delinquent behavior.

While some groups are believed to be involved in specialized scams and underground lending, the exact nature of their activities remains largely undocumented, contributing to their elusive reputation.

The media has labeled them as

loose-knit networks formed by ex-Bōsōzoku members and their acquaintances

(Asahi Shimbun, 2013)

Apart from engaging in fraud, some Half-Grey groups venture into diverse sectors, such as the poverty business, demolition work, waste disposal, club and entertainment production management, and even the operation of online dating sites.

These activities, known as "shinogi," serve as a means for members to generate income.

Persistent rumors also suggest that Half-Grey groups channel funds obtained through scams, including roofing fraud or destruction, to traditional organized crime syndicates.

However, concrete evidence supporting these claims remains elusive.

Distinguishing Features and Challenges

One notable distinction between Half-Grey groups and traditional yakuza organizations is their lack of official membership in organized crime syndicates.

Consequently, they are not subject to the Anti-Organized Crime Law enacted in 1991 or subsequent ordinances aimed at combating organized crime.

This enables Half-Grey groups to operate with relative anonymity, preserving their secrecy and evading legal repercussions.

A Closer Look at Half-Grey Activities

In the realm of criminal activities, a group known as "Half-Greys" engages in a wide range of fraudulent schemes.

Among them, one stands out as the most pernicious - the peculiar art of scamming.

This article delves into the world of Half-Greys, shedding light on their various operations, such as roofing scams, hoarding masks, engaging in illicit scouting practices, and even orchestrating heists.

Unmasking their activities will not only raise awareness but also serve as a reminder to stay vigilant in the face of such unscrupulous characters.

Roofing Scams

Roofing scams, often equated with the severity of fraudulent schemes, bear an eerie resemblance to the elaborate acts of the Half-Greys.

These unscrupulous individuals, disguised as roofing contractors, employ a devious modus operandi.

They offer free roof inspections to unsuspecting homeowners and, if no damages are found, resort to malicious acts of destruction using hammers, thereby committing acts of property damage.

The sinister twist lies in the exorbitant fees demanded from victims upon reaching an agreement, often double the market price charged by reputable companies.

For instance, in the case of a 20-square-meter property with a typical market rate of 500,000 yen, Half-Greys have been known to charge an astronomical sum of 1 million yen.

Even if the homeowner declines the contract, the Half-Greys carry out their revenge by destroying the roof.

This flagrant disregard for ethics and the exploitative nature of their actions call for swift action from authorities to apprehend these rogue contractors.

It is worth noting that similar unscrupulous practices have been reported in the realm of subfloor inspections, with suspicions of ties to the Half-Grey syndicate.

Mask Hoarding

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Half-Greys and even organized crime groups seized the opportunity to exploit the high demand for masks.

Reports revealed that as early as January 2020, these individuals embarked on large-scale mask-hoarding ventures.

The acquired masks were then resold at inflated prices, and when their stock ran low, they resorted to engaging foreign mafia groups for further acquisitions.

This illicit trade not only perpetuated panic and scarcity but also demonstrated the ruthless nature of Half-Greys profiting from a global health crisis.

Illegal Scouting

In Kyoto, Half-Greys entrepreneurs were arrested for illegal scouting.

The entrepreneurs used a dating business method in which male students from famous universities picked up young women and then took them to the rip-off bars they run.

They then demanded women with huge debts to work at brothels.

He received a portion of the women's salary as a referral fee.

These unscrupulous entrepreneurs justified their actions by creating manuals for their student recruits, containing phrases such as "Japanese universities are lukewarm; it's your loss if you settle for less."

The male students, driven by a sense of superiority, threw themselves into these exploitative tasks, allowing the Half-Greys to profit from their misdeeds.

Instances of similar activities were also reported in Tokyo and other regions of eastern Japan, highlighting the widespread reach of these malicious practices.

Half-Greys' Association with Violence

Half-Greys have been implicated in a range of criminal activities, extending beyond fraud.

In one incident, members of the Half-Grey gang known as "Gundan Tateishi" launched a robbery with assault in Osaka's entertainment district, resulting in multiple victims being assaulted and robbed of their belongings.

The group's activities also include targeted attacks on the residences of former gang members, where they forcibly steal valuables.

Another notable case involved the mastermind behind a gold bullion heist, who was referred to as the "Leader of the Half-Greys."

These instances serve as grim reminders of the extent to which Half-Greys are willing to go to achieve their unlawful objectives.

Involvement in Illicit Trades

While not explicitly illegal, Half-Greys have been associated with engaging in morally reprehensible activities, such as the illicit trade of synthetic drugs.

During the early 2010s, Half-Greys with backgrounds in loan sharking were involved in the distribution of synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as "legal herbs."

However, as law enforcement cracked down on these substances, Half-Greys swiftly withdrew from this line of business.

Nevertheless, their temporary involvement in the sale of these substances showcased their willingness to delve into questionable practices.

Additionally, some Half-Greys opt to engage in legitimate businesses or maintain public-facing roles.

For instance, former members of the influential group "Kanto Rengo" have established themselves as entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry, operating talent agencies or IT-based advertising firms.

Similarly, individuals like Matsushima Cross have found employment in the adult film industry.

By assuming these ostensibly lawful roles, Half-Greys attempt to cloak their criminal associations and blend into society.

Social Media Presence

Half-Greys are no strangers to utilizing social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to expand their reach and allure unsuspecting individuals.

Their charismatic personas and unique content often attract a substantial following, which they then manipulate to participate in criminal activities.

They exploit their online presence to facilitate activities such as coercing women into the sex industry or promoting illegal ventures.

The willingness of Half-Greys to openly showcase their faces and portray a lavish lifestyle further solidifies their online influence, drawing others into their web of crime.

The Relationship Between Half-Grey Organizations and Yakuza

While the majority of the half-grey members do not belong to traditional yakuza syndicates, they often establish a symbiotic relationship with these criminal groups, contributing a portion of their earnings as a form of tribute.

This section delves into the fascinating dynamics between half-grey organizations and the yakuza, shedding light on their interactions, the implications for law enforcement, and the measures taken to combat their activities.

An Intricate Alliance

Half-grey organizations, such as the notorious Abyss in Osaka, exhibit a unique characteristic of operating outside traditional yakuza structures while maintaining a mutually beneficial alliance.

In the case of Abyss, they paid monthly tributes ranging from 300,000 to 500,000 yen to the Yamaguchi-Gumi, a prominent yakuza faction.

Moreover, during conflicts with other half-grey groups like Out Seven (O7), the intervention of yakuza factions often facilitated resolution and restored peace.

As a result, law enforcement agencies, particularly the Osaka Prefectural Police's Fourth Investigation Division responsible for yakuza investigations, intensified their scrutiny.

This led to numerous arrests and the dissolution of both Abyss and O7 in 2018.

Yakuza's Utilization of Half-Grey Organizations

In recent years, the yakuza have adapted their approach by refraining from officially registering newcomers or lower-ranking members as full-fledged members.

Instead, they engage these individuals as part of their affiliated half-grey organizations.

This strategy allows the yakuza to maintain a level of control while avoiding direct legal consequences.

This emerging trend poses a significant challenge for law enforcement agencies attempting to dismantle the yakuza's influence.

Half-Grey Organizations in Okinawa

In 2016, a wave of half-grey organizations from Osaka expanded their operations to Ishigaki Island in Okinawa.

These groups engaged in aggressive solicitation tactics and exhibited behavior bordering on extortion.

The Yamaguchi-Gumi, a major yakuza syndicate, allegedly played a role in facilitating their entry by leveraging their influence over local Okinawan criminal organizations.

However, the Okinawa Prefectural Police closely monitored these half-grey organizations, leading to their eventual dissolution in November 2020.

A Battle against Half-Grey Organizations

In 2013, the National Police Agency classified certain half-grey organizations like Kanto Rengo and Dragon as "quasi-yakuza" groups, aiming to investigate and expose their underlying nature and activities.

While lacking the level of organizational structure seen in traditional yakuza groups, these quasi-yakuza groups consist of members engaging in habitual violent and illegal acts.

The catalyst for this classification was the high-profile Roppongi Club Murder Case in Tokyo in 2012.

As of 2017, eight organizations in Tokyo and two organizations designated by the Osaka Prefectural Police in 2017 and 2018 were recognized as quasi-yakuza groups.

Through extensive investigations, the Osaka Prefectural Police successfully arrested and prosecuted 55 individuals associated with Abyss, a half-grey organization operating girls' bars, on charges of assault and attempted extortion.

These measures ultimately led to the dismantling of the organization.

Strengthening Law Enforcement Efforts

Around 2023, police agencies across Japan began establishing specialized units dedicated to combating half-grey organizations.

In December 2022, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department launched a special task force responsible for gathering and analyzing comprehensive information from various departments to facilitate crackdowns on these criminal entities.

This cross-functional initiative aims to enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement efforts and bring about successful prosecutions.

Following suit, in January 2023, the Fukuoka Prefectural Police became the first in the nation to establish a dedicated headquarters solely focused on addressing the activities of half-grey organizations.

This proactive step underscores the growing recognition of the need for specialized measures to effectively dismantle these groups and mitigate their impact on society.

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